Research Original Research| Volume 116, ISSUE 8, P1285-1294, August 2016

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Adding a Social Marketing Campaign to a School-Based Nutrition Education Program Improves Children’s Dietary Intake: A Quasi-Experimental Study

Published:February 06, 2016DOI:



      Evidence supports the use of social marketing campaigns to improve nutrition knowledge and reinforce the effects of nutrition education programs. However, the additional effects of parent-focused social marketing with nutrition education have received little attention.


      Our aim was to assess the impact of the Iowa Nutrition Network’s school-based nutrition education program (Building and Strengthening Iowa Community Support for Nutrition and Physical Activity [BASICS]) and the benefits of adding a multichannel social marketing intervention (BASICS Plus) to increase parent-directed communication.

      Design and intervention

      A quasi-experimental design with three study conditions compared a school-based nutrition education program (BASICS) with a school-based and social marketing intervention (BASICS Plus) and a no-treatment comparison group.


      The study included 1,037 third-grade students attending 33 elementary schools and their parents.

      Main outcome measures

      Measures included parents’ reports of their children’s in-home consumption of fruits and vegetables (F/V) and use of low-fat/fat-free milk. Data on F/V were collected using a modified version of the University of California Cooperative Extension Food Behavior Checklist; and data on milk use were collected using two questions from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

      Statistical analyses

      Multilevel, mixed-effect regression models that account for correlation within repeated measures and children within school were used to compare the mean change over time in the outcome variable for one study group with the mean change over time for another study group.


      Children in BASICS increased mean consumption of fruit by 0.16 cups (P=0.04) compared with children in the comparison group. Children in BASICS Plus increased mean consumption of fruit by 0.17 cups (P=0.03) and mean consumption of vegetables by 0.13 cups (P=0.02). Children in BASICS Plus were 1.3 times (P=0.05) more likely to use low-fat/fat-free milk than children in either the BASICS group or the comparison group.


      Gaining parents’ attention and engaging them in healthy eating practices for their children can be a useful way to increase the effectiveness of school-based nutrition education programs. This study demonstrates the benefits of incorporating a parent-focused social marketing campaign in nutrition education interventions.


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      J. L. Blitstein is a public health psychologist, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC.


      S. C. Cates is a senior research policy analyst, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC.


      J. Hersey is retired; at the time of the study, he was a principal scientist, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC.


      K. Kosa is a research analyst, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC.


      P. A. Williams is a senior research psychologist, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC.


      D. Montgomery is a public health nutritionist, Iowa Department of Public Health, Des Moines.


      M. Shelley is university professor of Statistics, Political Science, and School of Education, and chair, Department of Political Science, Iowa State University, Ames.


      C. Hradek is a state specialist, Iowa State University Cooperative Extension, Ames; at the time of the study, she was social marketing coordinator, Iowa Department of Public Health, Des Moines.


      L. Bell is director, Center on Food Assistance and Nutrition, Altarum Institute, Portland, ME.


      V. Long is retired; at the time of the study, she was deputy director, Center on Food Assistance and Nutrition, Altarum Institute, Portland, ME.


      S. Olson is special assistant to the deputy administrator for Child Nutrition Programs, Food and Nutrition Service, US Department of Agriculture, Alexandria, VA.


      A. Singh is chief of the SNAP Evaluation Branch, Food and Nutrition Service, US Department of Agriculture, Alexandria, VA.